Defendant Charged with DUI in Baltimore City Not Guilty

Maryland DUI/DWI Attorneys with decades of experience often find and successfully pursue defenses that less experienced attorneys find or even bother looking for. Unfortunately, many inexperienced DUI attorneys or attorneys who really specialize in areas of the law other than criminal defense, never look beyond the breathalyzer result, particularly in first offense cases that don’t involve an accident or any injuries. The thinking is that the first offender will in most cases receive probation before judgment (PBJ) anyway so why bother? The person won’t go to jail and will not get points on his or her license so a PBJ is really as good as a not guilty or a dismissal. I beg to differ.

Aggressive and Experienced DUI Attorneys
know that there is a world of difference between a PBJ and a not guilty verdict. First of all, even if the client does receive PBJ, he or she will almost certainly be required to pay fines, attend alcohol counseling and serve a period of supervised probation. There may be other time consuming and costly requirements placed upon the client as well such as community work service, AA meetings and shock trauma visits to name just a few. Moreover, the PBJ can NEVER be expunged from the person’s record so even though the defendant will not have points assessed by the MVA, a record of the PBJ will always be kept which means that if the person ever gets charged with DUI again – even many years later- the stakes will be much higher as he will be a repeat offender.

And on top of all of this, in a garden variety first offense there is little risk to the client in not accepting the plea bargain offered by the State as there is cases involving accidents or repeat offenders. I say this because most judges will grant the defendant PBJ even after a trial in which the defendant is found guilty, so in my view you may as well take a shot at the not guilty if you have any possible defense at all. There is really nothing to lose. Here are the facts of the case I had last week:

My client was travelling Northbound on I-95 in Baltiomre City. A Maryland State Trooper began following him shortly after he exited the Harbor Tunnel. She wrote in her report that she first noticed that he crossed over the lane dividing lines with his left tires out of the middle lane and into the fast lane. She did not desribe by how much his tires crossed over or for how long this deviation lasted. She then wrote that she watched him weave within his lane for the better part of a mile and a half before observing his right tires cross over the lane dividing line from the center lane into the slow lane of travel. Again, she did not specify by how far or for how long this was done.

She pulled him over at this point and wrote that she smelled a strong odor of alcohol upon contacting him and requesting his driver’s license and registration. She asked him to exit the vehicle to perform field sobriety tests. She described his poor performance on the tests which led to her arresting him. He then agreed to take a breathalyzer and blew a .12. Sounds like a slam dunk case right?

Not so fast. There is case law that says that minor lane deviations that don’t cause a safety risk to any other cars are not sufficient probable cause for the police to pull you over. So the question is how significant were the deviations and how long did they last. Because it was a State Trooper I knew that there was a chance that her vehicle would be equipped with a dash cam. Not a very high percentage of State Trooper’s vehicles are equipped with dash cams but as luck would have it, this one was.

After viewing the video which starts about a minute prior to the trooper activating her emergency lights, I determined that she was accurate about the two lane deviations that she described in the report. He did in fact cross over the lines with his tires twice but each was a failrly minor deviation. The first was just the left tires crossing over for a second or so followed by an immediate correction by the driver. The second was similary brief and occurred as the driver was negotiating a curve. I saw no appreciable weaving within the lane as described by the trooper and all of this occurred at 230AM when there were almost no other cars on the road and certainly none that were effected by these minor lane deviations.

The case law on this issue essentially says that the minor lane deviations are not enough to establish probable cause unless that also cause some danger or safety risk to other vehicles on the road. The court has upheld lane deviations in which no other vehicles were effected but these typically involve the vehicle crossing halfway into another lane and/or deviations that last for a substantial time period.

I elected a court trial in the District Court (as opposed to a jury trial). The video was played for the judge and testiomy was taken regarding other observations made by the trooper (additional minor weaving within the lane for the most part). The Court agreed with my position that these lane deviations were not significant enough to establish probable cause to stop the vehicle. All evidence resulting from the stop to include the breathlyzer result was suppressed and my client was found not guilty.

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